The Paideia of God – Some Classical References

In the previous posts I listed some biblical references of the use of the Greek word “Paideia”.  In this post I will look at some classical uses of the word.

The simple translation of “paideia” in the classical Greek is “education”.  But the word encompasses a great deal more than what we typically think of as education.  It was not simply the teaching of information or skills.  For the ancient Greeks, paideia was about bringing citizen boys into the polis, the independent city-state as virtuous and well-rounded citizens.  A better translation might be “enculturation”.  Author Tracey Lee Simmons puts it this way, “Paideia was about instilling core values, enunciating standards and setting moral precepts.” (Climbing Parnassus:  A New Apologia for Greek and Latin, pg. 40)

The purpose of Paideia was not just educational, political and moral, but spiritual as well.  “The supreme goal of education was happiness, which was conceived of as health of the soul.” (Simmons, pg. 54)  Plato defined education as a process by which the learner is “rightly trained in respect of pleasures and pains, so as to hate what ought to be hated, right from the beginning to the very end, and to love what ought to be loved” (Simmons, pg. 56)  The Romans adopted the Greek model wholesale.  The word that the Romans used to describe this process, educatio, covered pretty much the same ground.  It referred “not to schooling and intellectual progress but to the physical rearing of the child and his or her training in behavior”.  (Stanley F. Bonner “Education in Ancient Rome”, pg. xi)

In effect, what Paideia in the ancient world was bout was the initiation into membership of a particular culture (in this case the culture of the Greek city-state and later, the culture of the Roman empire).  It involved physical training, the learning of language skills, the memorization of poetry commemorating the deeds of mythological and historical heroes, moral instruction, mathematical and musical instruction.  It was a concerted and specific effort to hold before students, “the habitual vision of greatness”, or the best that the culture had to offer.  (Simmons, pg. 45)

This is the background of the word that the biblical authors (be it the Apostle Paul or the anonymous writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews) used when describing the training, discipline or instruction of the Lord in the life of the believer.  It is not merely about the conveying of facts or modification of behaviors.  It is about membership in the culture of the Kingdom of God.  It is about the training of one’s soul to to love what God loves and hate what God hates.  It is about holding before our eyes the transforming vision of Jesus Christ and the renewing of our minds into conformity to the mind of Christ.  The readers of these biblical works (be it the letter to Ephesians or Hebrews or Luke-Acts) would know something of full weight and cargo of these words.  These words would call to mind for them images of what schoolboys of their day experienced as a part of their schooling.  They would also understand the counter-cultural implication of these words as well.  Like them, we are being called to be initiated into an entirely new way of thinking and living, the embracing of a completely different set of standards as to what was good and bad, right and wrong.  And to use the word that is a keyword to the entire letter to the Hebrews, it is a better way.

The next post will be about what some of the differences between the Paideia of our culture and the Paideia of God look like.



The Paideia of God

Over the last two or three years I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about and studying the concept of Paideia.  Paideia is a Greek word that referred to in classical texts the whole instruction, education and training of children.  In the New Testament, Paideia and it’s close corollary Paideuo (basically the infinitive root of Paideia) can be translated in terms of nurture, learning, instruction or discipline.

We are God’s children and the interplay of the use of this word within both settings (classical text and the New Testament) is quite instructive.  I am going to spend the next few posts looking more closely at the use of this word and concept in each setting separately and along the way, think about what this has to tell us about how God changes us into the person He created us to be.

As a quick starting point, here are the times that Paideia is used in the New Testament and how it is translated (using the ESV translation as a reference).

Ephesians 6:4 – “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

2nd Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

Hebrews 12:5 – “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?  ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.'”

Hebrews 12:7 – “It is for discipline that you have to endure.  God is treating you as sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”

Hebrews 12:8 – “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”

Hebrews 12:11 – “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

The infinitive version, Paideuo, is similarly translated most of the time but there are a few references that are translated a bit differently that are also worth noting.

Acts 7:22 – “And Moses was instructed in all of the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.”

Acts 22:3 – “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel, according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.”

1st Timothy 1:20 – “among whom are Hymanaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

Titus 2:12 – “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”

In the last reference, it is the grace of God which is doing the training (v 11).   A couple of quick observations.

1.  This instruction can be formal or experiential.  We are always in training, whether we think we are or not.

2.  It can often be unpleasant.

In the next post, I want to examine the concept of Paideia as it related to the education and training of children.



Why Whitestone Fellowship?

The title of this blog, “Whitestone Fellowship”,  is a reference to Revelation 2:17.

“To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

There is a theme throughout the Bible of people receiving new names.  Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, Jacob becomes Israel, Simon becomes Peter and Saul becomes Paul.  With this new name, each person takes on a new identity.  Their encounters with God have changed them.  They are no longer the person they were before.  This is the hope of the gospel.  We are told in 2nd Corinthians 5:17 that if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation.  In Christ we are to be changed.

This is what I want this blog to be about.  I like to read, watch sports on TV, think about and argue politics and talk about movies.  And all of these things may sneak into the blog from time to time.  But being changed by Jesus Christ into a new person is what is most important.  So if you read and comment on this blog, please understand that regardless of what any individual post may cover, that desire is what underlies everything.

Musings about Eternity

In “The Discarded Image”, C.S. Lewis shares the following thoughts regarding this study of De Consolatione Philosophiae (On the Consolation of Philosophy) by the early medieval scholar Boethius.

“Eternity is quite distinct from perpetuity, from mere endless continuance in time…Eternity is the actual and timeless fruition of illimitable life…And God is eternal, not perpetual.  Strictly speaking, He never foresees, He simply sees.  Your ‘future’ is only an area, and only for us a special area, of His infinite Now.  He sees (not remembers) your yesterday’s acts because yesterday is still ‘there’ for Him.  He sees (not foresees) your tomorrow’s acts because He is already in tomorrow.”

The perspective on eternity raises at least three thoughts for me.

  1. This helps me to understand how God can forgive, not just my sins that I have committed in my past, or am committing today but also that I will commit tomorrow.  God is not limited by time, so the atonement of Jesus is also not limited by time.  I have always understood this but guarded against it in a corner of my heart and mind.  I thought that this somehow was an excuse to sin, a license for future behavior and I didn’t want to give that ground in my mind.  It seemed like a weak resignation to sin, that ‘of course’ I am going to sin in the future but I already have my ‘get out of jail free’ card so I am good to go.  But in reality this is a deadly blow to the power of sin in my life.  Knowing that I am forgiven, truly forgiven, once and for all breaks the power of condemnation in my life.  And without the weight of condemnation, grace has a freer hand to work.  The power of sin is the law and the law works by guilt, debt and condemnation.  God’s eternal forgiveness is not a cologne masking the stench of sin, but a cleansing agent that truly scours sin from the depths of the soul.
  2. God also can work freedom in our lives by healing our memories, by taking us into our past, to experiences and traumas that have wounded our souls and trap us in bondage to sin.  This kind of experience in the past I have always discounted, because it seemed to be a shortcut, a “Jedi mind-trick” by which we can sort of fool ourselves as a coping mechanism.  But the reality is that God can truly take us into our past.  He is not limited by the passage of time and a wound that happened long ago does not doom us to a lifetime of “dealing with it the best we can”.  His healing power stretches throughout the entirety of our lives.  He can heal the past and break its power over our present and future.
  3. Finally, God has “put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”  (Ecc 3:11 ESV)  We were made for eternity and within the time span of our earthly lives there is an element that will always be missing.  There is a holy discontent that prevents any temporal thing from truly satisfying us.  Even in the greatest parts of life on earth, things like the love we share with our spouse and for our children, the beauty of creation and things that we enjoy doing, there is an element of longing for something more.  All too often we experience that as a curse, but in reality it is God’s grace.  The longing that we feel keeps us from settling for less than what God truly has for us.  It is a motivator to seek after God, to truly press in and not substitute the good for the best.